New support for victims of county lines exploitation

Hundreds of victims of county lines exploitation will be helped to escape drug gangs following the expansion of support services in four priority locations – London, West Midlands, Merseyside and Greater Manchester – where young people are often targeted.

The Home Office has today (September 24) allocated up to £5 million to better support young people and their families for the next three years, and help free them from the grasp of vicious county lines gangs.

A one-to-one specialist support service for young people under 25, delivered by not-for-profit organization Catch22, will safely make contact with young people who have been referred by safeguarding partners, such as the police and children’s services, and work with them to exit their involvement in county lines activity.

If under 25s are identified outside of their hometowns, a rescue service will be deployed to bring them home safely, offering a pivotal moment for them to engage with caseworkers and protect their futures.

The service will also offer mental health support and counseling to the young people and their families, to help deal with the trauma of their experiences.

They will operate across the four largest exporting areas for county lines activity, aligning with the police forces that are part of the government’s county lines program.

Home Office Minister, Jeremy Quin, said:

I want victims of exploitation to know that we are on their side – and that there is a way out, a brighter future available.

Since 2019, the government’s county lines program has shut down 2,400 lines, made over 8,000 arrests and engaged more than 9,500 individuals through safeguarding interventions.

These services will be relentless in their focus to carve out safe routes home for young people in danger and tear them away from the grip of these merciless county lines gangs, opening up their futures once more.

As part of the package of support, funding will also be allocated to continue the delivery of the national confidential and anonymous helpline ‘SafeCall’, delivered across England and Wales by Missing People – including bespoke support for parents and carers. Since it was established in late 2017, the helpline has supported 480 young victims of county lines exploitation and their families.

Chief Executive Officer at Catch22, Naomi Hulston, said:

For children and young people who are victims of county lines activity, the impact on their lives – and the lives of those around them – is devastating. We know that grooming techniques are becoming more advanced and that escaping the clutches of these perpetrators can be incredibly difficult. That’s why as part of this service we’ll not only be bringing young people home safely, we’ll be supporting them to make sure they can process their experiences and are protected from any future harm.

Director of Policy and Development at Missing People, Susannah Drury, said:

SafeCall provides confidential, anonymous support to young victims of county lines exploitation and their families – helping them get safe, stay safe and deal with the challenges they face. Our expert team is available 9am to 11pm, 7 days a week to provide support via our free helpline – text or call 116000. Missing People is proud to be providing the SafeCall service across England and Wales to help young victims and their families through crisis and trauma.

County lines activity refers to drug trafficking operations which often sees children or vulnerable adults groomed to run drugs from one city to other parts of the country, usually coupled with extreme violence and coercive behaviour.

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